Using Time Loops to Dream-Cast the “Miss Peregrine” Movie


“Mmmm, box office receipts.”

I usually avoid reading recommendations from coworkers because few among them share my tastes. (Twilight? Not really aimed at me. The Shack? ) Not only did I recently make an exception, I’m glad I did so, when I was allowed to borrow a copy of Ransom Riggs’ first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I’d read a review of it a while back in Entertainment Weekly that stuck in my head because of the unusual creative conceit behind it: Riggs amassed numerous bizarre, disturbing, or just plain head-scratching yesteryear photos of haunting-looking children and developed a narrative to string them together. Granted, anyone with bad vacation photos could muster at least a short story out of their own useless outtakes, but the photos in question elevate the project several levels above that.

On an overly reductive level, it’s a WWII-set X-Men vs. Groundhog Day. Jacob Portman is a present-day 16-year-old misfit who finagles his way to an obscure island near Wales to investigate his sketchy family history after his grandfather dies under violent circumstances. A trail of mystery and oddities leads Jacob into a place outside of time where a most unusual headmistress presides over a coterie of kids with impossible powers and features, here called “peculiars” instead of “mutants” — living in secret inside an endlessly repeating day for their own protection. There are super-powers, magical feats, disgusting things, poetic moments, terrifying evils, an open ending that begs for further journeys, and that mad, mad picture collection. I was left satisfied and ready for more.

According to the author’s official website, as of February 2012 the book has been optioned for big-screen adaptation, with big names attached such as director Tim Burton and screenwriter Jane Goldman, between whom I can easily see this being renamed Big Fish: First Class.

Please note the Courtesy Spoiler Alert at this point, where I’m about to delve a little further into character specifics. If this is still on your reading pile, now’s the time for a graceful exit, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

I normally shy away from Internet who-would-you-cast discussions because I think professional casting directors can make far more intriguing choices than I can. Nevertheless, Miss Peregrine demands a different, more fantastical approach. If the characters can use time loops to jump from period to period, as we discover in the final chapter, why not take advantage and use time loops to snag child actors from various decades of cinema for the assorted roles in the film? If the technology existed and Hollywood were willing to cannibalize its young retroactively, who could they force to relive their traumatic child-star years for the sake of our art and commerce?

Some modest suggestions:

Our Hero, Jacob Portman: As an unlikely, befuddled lad out of his league whose only power is monster-vision, I’d go back to my own childhood for someone I always thought I’d see more of in future years, but never really did: Matthew Laborteaux, a.k.a. the earnest, hard-luck Albert Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, one-time morphine addict and destroyer of blind schools. If ever a young man was in need of redemption through a second life, it’s poor Albert.

Emma Bloom, the irritable pyrokinetic with ties to Jacob’s past: Drew Barrymore from Firestarter is so obvious as to be disqualified on principle, but she would also have been too young to be typecast as Emma. The temper and leadership qualities might suggest the Emma Watson of a few years ago, but she’s disqualified for being named “Emma”. It bugs me when an actor plays a character that shares their first name. I’m going with Claire Danes as of Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Millard Nullings, the audacious invisible boy: Sure, CG and any talented voice actor would do, but I’d prefer a little more authenticity in the role — someone irrepressible yet difficult to pin down. Remember li’l Charlie Korsmo from Dick Tracy, What About Bob?, and Hook? You say you don’t? Perfect!

Olive, the little blond girl on the cover who can’t stop floating, just like Alan Ruck’s test subjects in the Fringe episode “Os”: Here’s where we draw upon Drew Barrymore, albeit the even younger version from E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial. I imagine her working quite well in that cute moment after Jacob’s dad exits their final confrontation, her bobbing around the ceiling like a lost helium balloon and asking, “Did we help?” One condition: she’d have to ditch the pigtails.

Enoch, master of icky homunculi: This screams “Damien” to me, but due to age limitations we’ll have to settle for Jonathan Scott-Taylor, headliner of 1978’s Damien: the Omen II.

Bronwyn, the strong girl: I’m at a loss. Unless there was ever a fictional biopic of Rosie the Riveter, I’m open to suggestions. The closest I could imagine was Nancy McKeon, once known as the attitudinal Jo Polniaczek from The Facts of Life, but this is more of a physical kind of tough-girl role, not just mental.

Bronwyn’s dead brother Victor: Our sole concession to today’s audience and stars, this can be a glorified cameo for The Hunger Games‘ Josh Hutcherson — any age, doesn’t matter. He’d spend all of three minutes playing dead under a thick blanket and one minute awakened with a spooky, seance-ready drawl. His name goes on the poster and box offices sell a few hundred thousand extra tickets. In exchange, he receives an easy payday of four million smackers that affords him the luxury of saying no to Journey 3: Verne Notice.

Hugh, the boy of bees: Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, while he could still smile sheepishly and before everything went horribly wrong for him.

Claire, the “doll-like girl” with the backmouth: Shirley Temple like you’ve never seen her before! And never, ever, ever will.

Horace, the impeccably suited boy: He shows up, fills up a space, but doesn’t seem essential. Say hello to Christopher Knight, TV’s Peter Brady, still in the same sad suit he wore to the birthday party that everyone else skipped.

Fiona, the wild-haired maker of the Adam topiary: Carrie Henn from Aliens, all the way. One final, brief, silent but poignant part for her before leaving Hollywood forever.

Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine: A rare, early dramatic role for 1970s Carol Burnett, in shrewd schoolmarm mode. She could purse her lips and glare hard like nobody’s business. I bet she could rock Miss P’s oddly affectated pipe, too.

Franklin Portman, Jacob’s dad: Since I already name-checked him, let’s go with Alan Ruck (in his older, post-Captain Harriman years) as the ineffective father, whose enthusiastic bird-watching may or may not belie a connection to ymbrynes as yet unrevealed. I theorized that last part myself as a great excuse for him to stick around for the sequels.

Dr. Golan: Described as “olive-skinned”, Jacob’s therapist has to be competent at his job yet mild-mannered so audiences don’t suspect him of anything too soon. Unfortunately, in the course of researching “olive-skinned” to nail down exactly what region of the dermal spectrum would qualify, I found much elitist disagreement as to what this should or shouldn’t mean. If we go the Katniss Everdeen route and ignore those words altogether, then I want Alexis Denisof circa Angel season two, when Wesley wasn’t Giles’ scrawny, uptight usurper anymore, but also wasn’t quite manly yet. It has to be before season five, when Wesley graduated from Manly School with honors by shooting his own father over a girl.

The unnamed creepy clown twins: If history has any twin child stars more notable than the Olsens, I’m open to suggestions. This would shake off the Full House stigma once and for all.

Dylan and Worm, present-day churlish Welsh teen wannabe rappers: Cut. Something in a book always gets cut from the movie adaptation. They lose.

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